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L.A.’s Angel’s Flight Railway is said to be the shortest railway in the world

David Goran

One of L.A.’s most enduring landmarks, the historic Angel’s Flight, was a funicular railway that operated from 1901 until 1969 when the City dismantled the railway to clear the site for redevelopment.

 

Angels Flight; 1960, L.o.C. Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). By Jack Boucher/Wikipedia/Public Domain

Angel’s Flight; 1960, L.o.C. Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). By Jack Boucher/Wikipedia/Public Domain

 

Angels Flight; c. 1905, View with the Third Street Tunnel and an observation tower. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Angel’s Flight; c. 1905, View with the Third Street Tunnel and an observation tower. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The funicular operated on two different sites, using the same cars and station elements. Col. James Ward Eddy, a lawyer and engineer, was the visionary who convinced City Hall to grant him a 30-year franchise to construct and operate an inclined railway.

The original Angel’s Flight location, with tracks connecting Hill Street and Olive Street, operated from 1901, carrying millions of people up and down the steep incline of Bunker Hill.

Angels Flight Railway. By Bruce Boehner/CC BY-SA 3.0.

Angel’s Flight Railway. By Bruce Boehner/CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

it is believed that Angels Flight has carried more passengers per mile than any other railway in the world. By David Lor/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

It is believed that Angel’s Flight has carried more passengers per mile than any other railway in the world. By David Lor/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Angel’s Flight consisted of two vermilion “boarding stations” and two cars, named Sinai and Olivet, pulled up the steep incline by metal cables powered by engines at the upper Olive Street station. As one car ascended, the other descended, carried down by gravity.

The counterbalanced cars, controlled by cables, travel up 33 percent gradient for 315 feet. It is estimated that Angel’s Flight has carried more passengers per mile than any other railway in the world, over a hundred million in its first fifty years.

Interior of the renovated Angels Flight car in March 2010. 1-By David Hilowitz/Flickr/CC BY 2.0. 2.-By By MarieVelde/CC BY 3.0,

Interior of the renovated Angel’s Flight car in March 2010. 1-By David Hilowitz/Flickr/CC BY 2.0. 2.-By MarieVelde/CC BY 3.0,

Over the years operations were transferred to other powers, tracks were relaid, and the station house redesigned. An archway labeled “Angel’s Flight” greeted passengers on the Hill Street entrance, and this name became the official name of the railway in 1912 when the Funding Company of California purchased the line from its founders.

Angels Flight car in 2008. By Alossix - Rich Alossi, CC BY 3.0.

Angel’s Flight car in 2008. By Alossix – Rich Alossi, CC BY 3.0.

As the surrounding area faced rapid commercialization, the original railway was forced to close, and the orange trolley cars were kept in storage for twenty-seven years.

Although it took another six years and a good supply of bureaucratic activity, the second Angel’s Flight location opened on February 24, 1996, half a block south of the original site, with tracks connecting Hill Street and California Plaza.

On February 24, 1996, Angels Flight was re-dedicated, half a block from its original site. By MargaretNapier/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

On February 24, 1996, Angel’s Flight was re-dedicated, half a block from its original site. By MargaretNapier/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Before the 2013 service suspension, the cost of a one-way ride was 50 cents (25 cents for Metro pass holders). By Ron Reiring/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Before the 2013 service suspension, the cost of a one-way ride was 50 cents (25 cents for Metro pass holders). By Ron Reiring/Flickr/CC-BY 2.0

 

Angels Flight was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 13, 2000. By Sgerbic/CC0

The railway was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 13, 2000. By Sgerbic/CC0

Following an accident in 2001, when a serious accident killed one passenger and seriously injured a few others, the Foundation commissioned the design and installation of an entirely new drive and control system, and Angel’s Flight reopened to the public on March 15, 2010.

Service was suspended again in September 2013, and the funicular has yet to reopen. The counterbalanced cars have been repaired and restored to their original state.